STARS: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson,
Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman, Jon Hamm
DIRECTOR: Drew Goddard
Bad Times At The El Royale is one wild-ass ride of a movie--if I may speak in the vernacular--a jigsaw puzzle that slowly assembles itself into what becomes a clear picture only near the end. It's not going to be for everyone, as evidenced by the older couple I saw getting up and walking out of the theater half way through...you could tell they just didn't get it, and didn't want to wait any longer to see if the pieces were eventually going to fit together.
It's the late sixties. Four strangers show up at a seedy and otherwise deserted Lake Tahoe hotel. The shaggy priest (Jeff Bridges), a cheeky vacuum cleaner salesman (Jon Hamm), a soul singing soul sister (Cynthia Erivo), a bored and uppity mystery woman (Dakota Johnson), and the slacker desk clerk (Lewis Pullman) make up our principal players. It doesn't take long to realize that none of them are really what they appear to be outwardly (including the hotel itself). These are the surprises that develop along the way. And when what you think is going to be a major character gets taken out fairly early on, it's a wake up call that jolts you out of any notion of getting in a short catnap, and you say...ooookay... what's next??? Which is good because it carries you through a lot of backstory and some scenes that go on too long, most of which serve only to showcase the singing talents of Cynthia Erivo. It's what stretches the film to its bloated two hours and twenty minutes.
The more Bad Times At The El Royale goes on the more you can see it's getting ready to jump the tracks, and I was trying to think of another flick that gave me those same vibes and flashed on Dusk Til Dawn, a movie that had its moments but then got too crazy and went on for too long. Way too long.
Still, I've got to admire the effort of a film that shoots for the moon in a quirky art house kind of way, even if it falls short and ends up crashing back into the lake. Three quarters of the way through we're still pretty clueless as to where director Drew Goddard will ultimately lead us, until a villain (Chris Hemsworth) from outside the core group appears, and it's game on for a bloody Tarentino-esque climax. Through it all there's a message about killing that emerges--it's wrong no matter what the context or justification (as in war)--which has to be brought out, of course, through a lot of the same.
Jeff Bridges is the reason why we are here in the first place (I'm a fan) and he doesn't disappoint with his portrayal of the dissipated, hard drinking priest.
Dakota Johnson, who's made her name of late in the world of soft-core kink with the Fifty Shades franchise, tries for a step up in class here and accomplishes at least that much--after all she's in a Jeff Bridges film--and opted for a part where she keeps her clothes on the whole time! .
Bad Times At The El Royale is fascinating in the way that a train wreck is fascinating. You can't look away. But that doesn't make it any less of a disaster.
Grade: C +
I'm with the older couple who left early, Tim. Only I've never, in my life, left a movie before it's over. On principle. I kept musing all through this turkey that last week I saw 'the best film of 2018' (A Star Is Born) and now I'm watching 'the worst film of 2018.' There has to be another word for slow to describe this puzzling piece of cinematic drivel.... Sluggish? Stagnant? Snail like? Those synonyms don't begin to describe Bad Times at the El Royale.
The only thing I kept asking myself throughout was "What the hell is this movie about?" (I had to read Tim's review to get the jist of what director/writer Drew Goddard was trying to convey.) The descriptive blurb on IMDb also helped "Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption - before everything goes to hell."
The only thing I really dug about this movie were the wonderful closeups of that vintage Wurlitzer jukebox. Made me miss the days when those music machines were housed in every restaurant and bar across America.
I also liked Cynthia Erivo's chops. Who is she, anyway? According to Wikipedia, she's a Brit who won a Tony (Best Actress in a Musical) in the Broadway revival of "The Color Purple." What a voice! Still. It wasn't worth the reduced price I paid. In my view, 'a bad time is what you'll get if you go to this mawkish mystery."